Bach’s Music, Back Then and Right Now

Beethoven specialists are known as great musicians, great interpreters, whereas Bach specialists tend to be viewed vatically, as mediums. I found myself connecting Casals’s moaning and Gould’s humming—for a composer who is supposed to be pure, we sure enjoy a lot of extraneous noise!—the musical equivalent of speaking in tongues, channeling, a kind of cultish signal, a sonic signature of being on the right occult frequency to communicate with the master.

This essay reminded me of this excerpt from Steppenwolf that I’ve tumbled before

It was at a concert of lovely old music. After two or three notes of the piano the door was opened of a sudden to the other world. I sped through heaven and saw God at work. I suffered holy pains. I dropped all my defenses and was afraid of nothing in the world. I accepted all things and to all things I gave up my heart. It did not last very long, a quarter of an hour perhaps; but it returned to me in a dream at night, and since, through all the barren days, I caught a glimpse of it now and then.

Bach’s Music, Back Then and Right Now


A lovely little infographic from Neven Mrgan, comparing the durations of Gould two major recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations:

Here’s a little chart I made. Glenn Gould recorded two remarkably different versions of Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’. The 1955 version is fast, virtuosic, and energetic (even frenetic). The 1981 version is deliberately paced and elegant. They are both dizzying masterpieces.

Most people prefer one over the other. On an average day, I will favor the 1981, but only by about 5%. I am very glad that both of them exist.

(Click for full size, please)

A State of Wonder was one of my favorite albums of 2008. I’ve been meaning to go back and listen through again, but alternating between the 1955 and 1981 versions for each variation. I think I also prefer 1981 recording.

They skipped a few minutes’ worth of the opening toccata section, but man, how cool. That footwork! (via kottke)

I’m wondering what someone could do if they spent their life practicing an instrument like this one. Or what could a group of players (dancers?) make of it? One of the things that can make percussion ensembles (or say, a drummer in a band) more interesting than other chamber groups is all the movement. It can be really visual and just plain fun to watch, which you don’t always get from a pianist or string quartet or whatever.